A good writing prompt should poke a sharp stick at the creative process. At a recent Portland Writers’ Group meeting (An Evening To Write, hosted by the inimitable Cathryn Bonica), one of the prompts did just that. At first, I made the mistake of ignoring its insistent jabbings and got on with revising a piece of flash fiction I’d written several years previously. However, about half way through the hour-long writing time, I found that I could ignore it no longer. Its blatant surrealism called out for a response.
The prompt was a line from an E.E. Cummings poem My Girl’s Tall With Hard Long Eyes:
“… the weak noise of her eyes easily files my impatience to an edge…”
With thirty minutes of writing time to play with, the usual staring at a blank space and seeking inspiration isn’t likely to yield much. I find that the best approach in these circumstances is just to write the first thing that comes into one’s head and then take it from there. Here’s what I came up with (unedited, typos and all, to give it that sense of authenticity). It’s only 353 words long, and the poor thing has no title as yet.
I admit it. The deafness of the stair carpet got my day off to a bad start.There is no solution for such things. No hearing aid for floor coverings. It had ambushed me with a sly, turned up corner. Bad enough, but it refused to show remorse of any kind when I yelled abuse at it’s carelessness. Spread-eagled on my dignity, saved by the banister. The coffee mug hadn’t been so lucky.
She was in the kitchen. Munching on toast and Marmite; reading Dostoyevsky, or Ivan Ivanovitch or Abdul Abulbul Amir, for all I knew.
“Enjoy your trip?” she said, without looking up.
“You need a new script writer,” I said. “And, next time, pay him enough so that you don’t live your festering life in a swamp of clichés and homilies.”
“Cat got your tongue?” she said.
“Wrong fucking cliché,” I said and grabbed a mug from the table.
“A stitch in time,” she said, “saves the spilled milk.”
I took the mug to the coffee pot. “But is fuck all use for spilled coffee and broken pottery,” I snapped and felt the edges of my sanity curling and darkening like an overcooked pancake.
“Ah,” she said. “There’s no point in crying over a broken seismograph. I wondered what that was about.”
I sat down opposite her, flowing bathrobe and gaping pajamas my only defense. She settled her half-eaten toast on a plate. The Marmite was a dark betrayer, ready to slice opinions like a honed knife. She laid down her book (the poems of E. E. Cummings I now saw) and turned to look at me. In the perfect silence of the moment, I heard the tiny, feeble noise of her eyes swiveling in the sockets of her skull.
“You’re doing it again,” I said.
“That thing that you do.”
“That filing thing.”
The silence drifted, a rancidity in the space between us.
Her eyes glistened.
“Get on with your breakfast, or I’ll take a chain saw to
your impatience,” she said.